World History For Dummies, 3rd Edition
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“Palestine” was a common name used until 1948 to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In its history, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, among others, have controlled Palestine at one time or another. The Ottoman Empire ruled the region from the 1500s through 1917.

After World War I, Palestine was administered by the United Kingdom under a mandate received in 1922 from the League of Nations. The modern history of Palestine begins with the termination of the British Mandate, the Partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel, and the ensuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Partition of Palestine

In 1947, the United Nations (U.N.) proposed a Partition Plan for Palestine titled “United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) Future Government of Palestine.” The resolution noted Britain’s planned termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and recommended the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, with the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area protected and administered by the United Nations.

The resolution included a highly detailed description of the recommended boundaries for each proposed state. The resolution also contained plans for an economic union between the proposed states and for the protection of religious and minority rights. The resolution called for the withdrawal of British forces and termination of the Mandate by August 1948 and establishment of the new independent states by October 1948.

First Arab-Israeli War (1948)

Jewish leadership accepted the Partition Plan but Arab leaders rejected it. The Arab League threatened to take military measures to prevent the partition of Palestine and to ensure the national rights of the Palestinian Arab population. One day before the British Mandate expired, Israel declared its independence within the borders of the Jewish State set out in the Partition Plan. The Arab countries declared war on the newly formed State of Israel beginning the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

After the war, which Palestinians call the Catastrophe, the 1949 Armistice Agreements established the separation lines between the combatants: Israel controlled some areas designated for the Arab state under the Partition Plan, Transjordan controlled the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip.

The Six Day War

The Six Day War was fought from June 5 to June 10, 1967, with Israel emerging victorious and effectively seizing control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. The U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 242, the “land for peace” formula, which called for Israeli withdrawal “from territories occupied” in 1967 and “the termination of all claims or states of belligerency.” Resolution 242 recognized the right of “every state in the area to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

The 1973 War

In October 1973, war broke out again between Israel and Egypt in the Sinai and Syria in the Golan Heights. A ceasefire was achieved (U.N. resolution 339) and U.N. peacekeepers deployed on both the fronts, only withdrawing from the Egyptian front after Israel and Egypt concluded a peace treaty in 1979. U.N. peacekeepers remain deployed in the Golan Heights.

Rise of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

In 1974, the Arab League recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and relinquished its role as representative of the West Bank. The PLO gained observer status at the U.N. General Assembly the same year.

In 1988, the Palestinian National Council of the PLO approved a Palestinian Declaration of Independence in Algiers, Tunisia. The declaration proclaims a “State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem,” although it does not specify exact borders, and asserts U.N. Resolution 181 supports the rights of Palestinians and Palestine. The declaration was accompanied by a PLO call for multilateral negotiations on the basis of U.N. Resolution 242.

The Intifada (1987 to 1993)

Conditions in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including Jerusalem, after more than 20 years of military occupation, repression and confiscation of land, contributed to a Palestinian uprising called the intifada in December 1987. Between 1987 and 1993, over 1,000 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured, detained, imprisoned in Israel or deported from the Palestinian territories.

The peace process

In 1993, the Oslo Accords, the first direct, face-to-face agreement between Israel and the PLO, were signed and intended to provide a framework for the future relations between the two parties. The Accords created the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) with responsibility for the administration of the territory under its control. The Accords also called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Implementation of the Oslo Accords suffered a serious setback with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Prime Minister and signer of the Oslo Accords, in November 1995. Since 1995, several peace summits and proposals, including the Camp David Summit (2000), Taba Summit (2001), the Road Map for Peace (2002), and the Arab Peace Initiative (2002 and 2007), have attempted to broker a solution, with no success. At the same time, internal divisions between two Palestinian political parties ― Hamas and Fatah ― after Hamas won legislative elections in 2006 and took over administration of the Gaza Strip, led to conflicts that undermined the peace process.

The drive for recognition of Palestinian statehood

In September 2011, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, requested recognition of a Palestinian state from both the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. In October 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) admitted Palestine as a member. In November 2012, the U.N. granted Palestine non-member observer State status. This progress on the international scene, however, was undercut by developments in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

In June 2014, Hamas and Fatah instituted a unified national Palestinian government retaining Abbas as President, prompting Israel to condemn the new government and withdraw from negotiations, claiming that a Palestinian government including Hamas would lead to increased terrorism and threaten the security of Israel. Fighting immediately broke out in Gaza between Israel security forces and Hamas and lasted through the summer, ending in an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire in August 2014. Since that time, periodic violent conflicts have occurred between Palestinians and Israeli security forces with deaths on both sides.

In May 2017, Hamas officials proposed a Palestinian state defined by the 1967 borders with the capital in Jerusalem, but refused to recognize Israel as a state. In so doing, the proposal undercut a central aim of the Oslo Accords and other proposed agreements ― a two-state solution that recognizes an independent state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel. Israel immediately rejected this proposal.

Late in 2017, the U.S. government made statements recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This prompted Palestinian leaders including President Abbas in January 2018 to call for an end of Palestinian recognition of Israel until Israel recognized the state of Palestine as defined by the 1967 borders including the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem, along with suspension of settlement efforts in the West Bank.

In May 2021, a further round of violence erupted between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, in response to protests in East Jerusalem over the potential eviction of several Palestinian families. The ensuing violence claimed more than 250 Palestinian lives and more than a dozen Israelis, before Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire.

Recent history further demonstrates that numerous issues remain to be settled by Israelis and Palestinians, and even between Palestinians themselves, before a truly unified and independent state of Palestine emerges, and peace comes to the region.

About This Article

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Peter Haugen is a prolific history writer. In addition to authoring and contributing to several books, his work has appeared in publications including History Magazine, Mental Floss, and Psychology Today. Haugen has served on the staffs of such newspapers as the St. Petersburg Times and the Sacramento Bee.

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